Tick, mosquito-borne infections spiking in United States: CDC

FILE PHOTO - A sign is displayed as San Diego County officials hand spray a two block area to help prevent the mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus in San Diego, California, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of Americans sickened each year by bites from infected mosquitoes, ticks or fleas tripled from 2004 through 2016, with infection rates spiking sharply in 2016 as a result of a Zika outbreak, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that some 96,075 diseases caused by bites by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas were reported in 2016, up from 27,388 in 2004, in an analysis of data from the CDC’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.

Infections in 2016 went up 73 percent from 2015, reflecting the emergence of Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause severe birth defects. Zika was the most common disease borne by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas reported in 2016, with 41,680 cases reported, followed by Lyme disease, with 36,429 cases, almost double the number in 2004.

The increases may be a result of climate change, with increased temperatures and shorter winters boosting populations of ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-carrying creatures known as “vectors.”

“It enables these ticks to expand to new areas. Where there are ticks, there comes diseases,” said Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

Warmer summer temperatures also tend to bring outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses, Petersen said.

While Zika stood out as the latest emerging threat in the report, it also showed a long-term increase in cases of tick-borne Lyme disease, which can attack the heart and nervous system if left untreated.

Researchers warned that their numbers likely do not include every case as many infections are not reported.

These increases are due to many factors, including growing populations of the insects that transmit them and increased exposure outside of the United States by travelers who unknowingly transport diseases back home.

The CDC said more than 80 percent of vector-control organizations across the United States lack the capacity to prevent and control these fast-spreading, demanding illnesses. Petersen said that federal programs are increasing funding for those organizations.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

U.S. flu outbreak worsens, likely to linger for weeks: CDC

A box of masks is shown in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018

(Reuters) – One of the worst flu outbreaks in the United States in nearly a decade worsened last week and will likely linger for several weeks, causing more deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

Another 10 children were reported to have died of the flu in the week ending Feb. 3, bringing the total infant mortality so far this season to 63, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director, told reporters. The CDC does not require national reporting of flu deaths in adults.

“I wish there were better news this week, but almost everything we’re looking at is bad news,” Schuchat said. “There have been far too many heart-wrenching stories in recent weeks about families who have lost loved ones to influenza.”

It was unclear whether the outbreak had reached its peak yet or if it would get worse, she said. Previous outbreaks had lasted between 11 and 20 weeks, and the current outbreak was in its 11th week, she said.

The number of people hospitalized for flu-like illnesses is the highest the CDC has seen since starting its current tracking system in 2010.

The dominant flu strain this season, influenza A (H3N2), is especially potent, linked with severe disease and death, particularly among children and the elderly.

The outbreak has reached almost every corner of the country, with every state except Hawaii and Oregon reporting widespread flu, Schuchat said.

She urged sick people to stay home and said it is still not too late for people to get a flu vaccine, which offers some protection.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Paul Simao)

CDC director urges flu vaccinations as pediatric deaths mount

Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018.

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Of the 30 U.S. children who have died from the flu so far this season, some 85 percent had not been vaccinated, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who urged Americans to get flu shots amid one of the most severe flu seasons in years.

“My message is, if you haven’t gotten a vaccine, please get a vaccine. Also, please get your children vaccinated,” said Fitzgerald, who is urging citizens “to take every advantage that you can to protect yourself.”

The dominant strain during this flu season is an especially nasty type called influenza A (H3N2) that in seasons past has been linked with severe disease and death, especially in the elderly and young. This year’s seasonal flu epidemic is especially severe.

In its latest report, the CDC said the virus is present in every state, with 32 states reporting severe flu activity.

Although the vaccine is only estimated to be about 30 percent effective against the H3N2 strain, it has been shown in studies to reduce severity and duration if people do become infected, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fitzgerald conceded in a telephone interview that reports that the flu vaccine in Australia was only 10 percent effective may have caused people to think the vaccine would not be worth the trouble.

Fitzgerald said the agency’s flu division has been on the job during the three-day federal government shutdown. Senators on Monday reached a deal to keep the government funded through Feb. 8.

Studies have shown that even a vaccine that has lower overall effectiveness can decrease the number of days spent in hospital, duration of the flu and the degree of symptoms.

“That helps support the point of getting a vaccine,” Jernigan said.

Fitzgerald said the flu vaccine and antiviral drugs used to fight the flu are widely available across the country, noting that people can go to the CDC website and enter their zip code to find the nearest flu clinics with vaccines.

Fitzgerald also recommended that people frequently wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, avoid those who are sick or coughing and carry disinfectant wipes.

The CDC does not have numbers for adult deaths from the flu because adult flu is not a reportable disease in all U.S. states. But she said North Carolina, which collects such data, has reported 42 adult flu deaths so far this season.

Official estimates from the CDC are expected at the end of the current season, based on a calculation from hospitals and states reporting data to the agency.

In the 2014/2015 flu season, in which the H3N2 strain was also the leading strain, there were an estimated 35.6 million cases, 710,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths. At this point, it is not clear whether the current flu season will surpass those estimates, Jernigan said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Plague in Madagascar Surprises and Alarms World Health organizations, U.S. not immune

World Health Organization responding to Seychelles plague

By Kami Klein

Experts are alarmed at a recent outbreak of plague that is spreading through major populated areas in Madagascar.  So far there has been 1,836 suspected or confirmed cases of pneumonic plague and 133 deaths in areas that have never seen this form of the disease before.

Every year Africa and Madagascar deal with an outbreak of plague within their borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) anticipates this in outlying areas and is ready to step in with antibiotics and information which eventually curtails the outbreak.  This year, health organizations around the world were surprised as the plague has spread so quickly and is primarily being found in heavily populated areas. While they anticipate around 400 cases a year, this year’s outbreak began sooner and a different strain of the disease has the world watching.

What is causing the alarm is that 65% of the plague occurring in Madagascar, pneumonic plague, is the only form that can be spread from human to human through droplets from coughing.  This makes containing the disease much more difficult and the chances that there will be more deaths almost certain.

According to the Center for Disease Control here in the United States, there are major differences in bubonic plague and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is spread to humans by the bites of infected fleas that live on small mammals such as rats.Without treatment, it kills up to two-thirds of those infected. One in 10 cases will develop into pneumonic plague which is almost always fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics. This form, can and will spread from human to human which is the case in this outbreak. The good news is that a simple short course of antibiotics can cure the plague, providing it is given early.

Dr. Tim Jagatic told BBC News that the outbreak had spread to populated areas when a man infected with bubonic plague had traveled from the highlands to the capital and then on to the coastal city of Tamatave by bus.

“He had the bubonic form of the plague and entered into one of the major cities, where the bubonic version of the disease had the potential of turning into the pneumonic form without treatment.”

“He was in a closed environment with many people when he started to develop severe symptoms, and he started to transmit the pneumonic form of the disease to others.”

“So it wasn’t recognised until later,” he said, allowing the disease to “proliferate over a period of time unabated”.

This  case infected 31 other people, according to the WHO, four of whom died. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that an outbreak of the plague was detected and officially confirmed.

Although a travel ban has not been issued as of yet, officials do expect another spike in the disease before the season ends in April.  Medical personnel are all on  alert in parts of Africa that are most frequented by Madagascar citizens. WHO has delivered nearly 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million dollars in emergency funds to fight the plague in Madagascar.

Though not widely publicized, the United States does have several cases of plague per year mostly in the Southwest. Dr Tim Jagatic, a doctor with Doctors without Borders currently working in Madagascar stated that the conditions which cause the plague outbreaks on the African island are also found in the US.

“Something today that very few people are aware of is that in the United States for instance, in the south-west, there’s an average of 11 cases of bubonic plague per year.

“These outbreaks occur simply because this is a bacteria which is able to maintain a reservoir in wild animals and every once in awhile, when humans come into contact with fleas that have had contact with the wild animals, it is able to transmit to humans.”

Information Sheet on the Plague

Information Sheet on the Plague

 

Sources:   BBC, WHO,CDC, New York Post  CNN